Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Re-covering the past: The Sentimental Value of Other People's Furniture

Our house is decorate primarily in OPF (Other People's Furniture). Marrying young and poor, we quickly became magnets for anything that friends or relations were giving away. This set a precedent of a home full of artifacts from those we love. Even when we both had professional jobs, we found we didn't want to part with grandma's couch, mom's childhood dresser, auntie's steamer trunk with all its old shipping labels, or the huge and gracious dining room table that served two generations of Oregon Joneses before us.

Throughout childhood, I could always find the same folding step stool in every house we owned. It was a great toddler seat, so it's a prominently featured element of many family event photos.

After my grandmother died, I inherited her step stool which happens to be identical to the one still in my mom's kitchen. The stool moved into our first house's kitchen, but it was relegated to a closet when we moved here. There are only a few nooks and crannies that we can't access while standing on the floor, so there didn't seem to be much of a point in keeping it out when an already handy chair could serve in a pinch.

That was, until a few weeks ago when I momentarily lost my balance standing on a chair. Fortunately, I caught myself as only Ranger and I were home and he's hardly ready to pick me up off the floor or call 9-1-1.

After a lecture from Jim (which I totally resisted to acknowledge as sensible), I noticed that Ranger's beloved Richard Scarry Busytown videos have a musical segment on kitchen safety for kids which includes NEVER standing on a chair. The fact that Jim's advice was as elementary as the concepts that stoves are hot and knives are sharp tweeked my conscience.

The stool emerged that afternoon from its closet entombment. Ranger immediately found it awesome, and I realized that decades of regular use had left it with more grime and damage than in my memories.

After a good scrubbing, the foot tread was black again, but the top step/seat had faded from cheerful yellow to sad off-white and was tearing at the corners.

So I replaced the vinyl and padding on the seat. For $3, I found some vinyl that matched the cheerful yellow of my childhood and the new padding (low loft polyester quilt batting) cost around $1 more.

I removed the seat pad and cleaned under it (the dark spots in the photo are places where the metal is discolored or scuffed). The seat pad is a thin wooden piece of pressboard topped with batting then covered with vinyl and stapled. I pulled out all the staples and found that the cotton batting was worn flat and stained from spills that seeped under the seat. Using the old vinyl and batting as templates, I cut two layers of fresh batting and one piece of new vinyl. After some stretching and stapling, the seat pad was refreshed and replaced.

Such a small refurbishing project results in sweet flashback of childhood in the kitchen. I'm delighted every time Ranger perches on it.

Pane-less Toddler Craft: "Stained Glass"

We recently found ourselves in search of a craft that could entertain a crowd of wee folk between ages 18 months and 8 years. Glue, paint, and markers all promised more mess than I wanted to clean up in a borrowed space.

In the GIANT Encyclopedia of Theme Activities for Children 2 to 5 (borrowed from the library), we found a great Stained Glass craft that involves neither glass nor stain. It seemed flexible enough to entertain a crowd of various ages.

With 2 pieces of clear Con-tact paper (available at craft and discount stores in a variety of lengths), a construction paper frame, and small squares of colored tissue paper or cellophane, you can entertain kids (and adults) for a while.

Before introducing toddlers to the scene, pre-cut your frame, 2 slightly larger pieces of Con-tact paper, and tissue paper squares.

Bring on the kids.

Help the kids remove the backing from one sheet of Con-tact paper (even early toddlers can enjoy separating the Con-tact paper and its backing if someone starts a corner for them).

Place the Con-tact paper on the table sticky side up.

If you want to write something on the frame now is the time. Names are a good addition if lots of kids are doing the same craft. Center and place the frame face down on the Con-tact paper.

Now the kids can place colored shapes all over the sticky paper. Overlapping pieces and pieces going over the frame are no problem. Older kids might want to make mosaic-style images or patterns.

When the young artist feels their work is completed, help them remove the backing from the second piece of Con-tact paper. Place the Con-tact paper face down on the completed mosaic. Don't worry about lining up the edges exactly- you can trim away the surplus for a neat edge.

If you want, you can use a hole-punch and yarn to make a hanger, but we just taped our finished project to the window.

Clean up is easy (throw out Con-tact backings and sweeping up tissue squares), and even very young children have the satisfaction of completing a craft.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Extra-Thirsty and Other Warning Signs

Pop quiz (in honor of the return to school season):

Do you know the warning signs for Type 1 diabetes? How about Type 2?

Mom blogger Leeanthro recently reminded me that diabetes can strike even preschoolers, and the symptoms can elude watchful parents because we're not on the lookout for this specific condition. Two of the hardest moments in my mom's teaching career have been informing families that their child's classroom behavior merits diabetes screening.

Jim and I lost a friend to Type 1 diabetes in the 90s not long after his college graduation. Half a decade later one of our closest friends was hospitalized with life-threatening symptoms of undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.

While we can (and should) seek a cure for diabetes and support those already diagnosed (as Leeantrho is currently doing in her Blog to Fight Diabetes campaign), please familiarize yourself with the common symptoms of diabetes for the health of your family and your community. Don't be afraid to speak up if you notice diabetic symptoms in someone else's child.

And, if you want to talk about gestational diabetes, feel free to send us an email. We learned about that firsthand when pregnant with Ranger.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Terrific Twos: Tandem Toddler Playtime

Last week we were thrilled to have a favorite young guest make a morning visit. Our sweet-tempered guest is about 6 months younger than Ranger, so they're both making the transition from parallel to interactive play.

Before our guest's arrival, some of Ranger's most beloved objects were placed in his room to prevent crises in sharing. We tend to play only in the public areas of the house to prevent triggering his sometimes territorial behavior.

He and our guest had a lovely time playing together with Colorforms on the fridge. The big blank space gave them lots of freedom and it was really sweet to hear them identifying shapes and colors to each other.

The big hit of the morning though had to be PAINTING (it even outranked Cheerios). A few months ago I lucked across an unopened Buddah Board at a local thrift shop (50 cents, normally ~$22). It's simple, reusable paint with water surface is great for two toddlers to share and it dries fast enough that there's always some white space available for painting.

They had a great time painting, and I loved watching them in this charming new age of (periodic) cooperation.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bowling With Recyclables

Growing up on military bases, Jim had easy access to bowling alleys. Jim's dad bowled in military leagues and (coincidentally) now works for a bowling ball manufacturer.

Around two and half, we took Ranger bowling for the first time. He loved it. We've gone a few times since.

Last night Ranger kept mentioning bowling, so we dug through the recycle bin for some impromptu pins.

Our Simply Lemonade containers are ideal choices. We all prefer them upside-down because it improves the chain reactions and delivers a very satisfying clatter when they fall. The lids are heavy enough that Ranger has no problem setting them up on our own.

Other bottles that worked well are water bottles, shampoo bottles, and half gallon juice bottles. Milk gallons will work, but don't provide much satisfaction in sound or tumbling action when hit.

We used a foam ball, a spherical soccer ball pillow, and a rubber ball. All the balls worked well, so it looks like you could use any ball that fits your toddler's hands well and isn't too heavy.

We think soda bottles would work well, but didn't have any on hand to test.

These impromptu bowling sets can make an easy and cheap activity for entire herds of toddlers.

It's always fun to find toys in the recycling bin: check out our homemade milk-carton building blocks. (They'll also do substitute bowling pins in a pinch.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Letter-Perfect: DIY Toddler-Friendly Custom Storage Labels

Whenever we buy a warehouse box of wipes, we get another pop-up dispenser box. This isn't a real boon since we're still using our original wipes box at the changing table and our second wipes box downstairs.

A friend's brother uses some of our surplus boxes to organize and store auto parts and hardware bits in his garage.

Ranger's been pretty obsessed with his magnetic letters lately. Late last year he explored the house for new magnetic surfaces, so now magnetic letters, shapes, and potholders can be found hanging on many doors and appliances around the house.

The bulk of the letters used to travel together around the house in a lidless cardboard Clementine box. In the last week, that box has been deemed perfect for marble play, so the letters would be randomly heaped in front of doors.

The wipes box was perfect for holding his letter collection. At least until Ranger decided to use it to hold two marbles and the alphabet heaps began reappearing around the house. A label seemed like it might help as long as Ranger could read it.

I scanned some letters for a label (our scanner has a glass bed so all voids show as black space) and printed the resulting image. It easily attached to the box with two strips of packaging tape. Ranger now understands that the box has specific purpose.

How do you help toddlers learn to put stuff away?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Feel the Burn: When Hot Peppers Fight Back

Last night, Ranger's grandparents tangled with some peppers of unknown origin they received at church. The very bright green peppers turned out not to be sweet peppers but instead held within them the very seeds of fire.

My parents tend to like very hot foods. My dad's been accused of attempted assassination for serving his rather spicy spaghetti sauce, and the family chili recipe has made people ask "What keeps the pot from melting?" as they gobble down seconds and thirds to stave off the inevitable burn.

Mom called this morning because her hands were still burning from cutting the peppers barehanded last night. Popular wisdom (via Google) unwisely suggests lots of caustics and/or drying agents (ranging from undiluted bleach to ethyl alcohol to 100 proof vodka); all bad ideas. I cannot imagine that these remedies do much more than dry the skin and make it more irritable.

Our own experience and a rather colorful story about friend's hot pepper connoisseur father and poorly timed trip to the urinal (along with wikipedia) point toward oily compounds to quickly remove the pepper's burn agent (capsaicin). We've found that whole milk or yogurt (preferably a non-low-fat variety) work best internally and humble fatty mayonnaise is great topically (store brands often have the highest fat content).

Grandma just called back after trip to the store for cheap mayo, and reports "immediate relief" for her burning hands.

Mastering the Stink: Our DIY Diaper Pail

Earlier this year, our once-revived Diaper Champ went down for the final count. Though replacing the seals extended the useful life of the Champ, there was nothing we could to do to stop the stink from moving into the porous plastic parts.

The Diaper Champ perpetually smelled like a convention of port-a-potties on a hot day. I didn't want to deal with this reality, but when I opened it one day to find a dozen staggering drain flies circling inside, I knew its useful life was over. I bagged the Champ, diapers, drain flies, and all. When Jim dropped it in the compactor at our local waste disposal station, he ran back to the car.

"Hurry, they've firing up the compactor!"

I started the engine just in time to hear the Champ's plastic sides blow out, popping the bag.

"Mosquitos!" Ranger proclaimed as a cloud of drain flies blackened out the sky over the facility. With slow deliberation, I drove nonchalantly away from the creeping smell.

We talked about buying another Diaper Champ to see if the next generation is indeed improved, but decided such stink free plastic pails to be mere pipe dreams. Plus, there's not much sustainability in recycling one of those giant plastic stinkholes for each child we raise.

So we went with an earlier plan involving a metal pail with a tightly locking lid. We got a small steel can at Lowe's for $13.98 and (this time) a brand new tube of caulk (learning from our previous curing problems).

On the underside of the lid, Jim put two beads of caulk on the handle bases and three concentric circles of caulk around the outer edges. After a few days off-gassing on our porch, the pail was ready for use.

We just use a kitchen trash bag inside of it and twist it closed after each diaper. The inside of the pail reeks, but when closed exudes no olfactory offense to bystanders. It's not a 1-handed disposal, but it's easier than carrying every single diaper downstairs and out to the main trash in the garage and it uses far less plastic than individually bagging each stinkbomb (we really don't like plastic bags) and putting them in indoor trashcans.

After a few weeks of field testing, we've found that the diaper pail doesn't retain a smell when not in use- and the drain fly population seems to be nearing extinction in our household.

How do you keep the air fresh during the diapering years?

Update (9/10/08): The pail kept the stink under control, but couldn't win against the drain flies. We've since purchased a different version of the Diaper Champ.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Sign of the Times: Kid's Name Signs from a Recycled Origami Calendar

Mimi & Moe's Mom found a great use for some origami paper from one of those page-a-day calendars. She's made some really cute kid's name signs for Moe and many friends (Mimi already had a super-deluxe sign for her room from an earlier project). I know it's just an excuse to use a power drill and glitter, but the end products are fabulous.

While you're visiting her site- check out these awesome crocheted watches she made for the kids!

Does anyone have an idea where she could find more clock buttons?

Power Lines: Indoor Clotheslines Cut Consumption

Jim and I heard an awesome segment on NPR about Juneau, Alaska's amazing power conservation efforts after an avalanche destroyed their connection to hydro-electric power. The resulting dependence on gas-powered generators caused their electricity rates to raise 400 to 500%.

In a month, the citizens of Juneau have made amazing personal and community conservation efforts and now use less than 70% of their prior consumption.

Since hearing their story we've been looking for more ways to cut our own power use.

One obvious point of energy waste in our house is the dryer. Dryers are innately inefficient (they're just big boxes of hot), especially in an air conditioned home; they are so equally inefficient that they aren't ever Energy Star certified. But our dryer is even worse than usual: When we experienced basement flooding after the tornado, one of our many solutions was to replace the cracked and tilted back patio in hopes of diverting water away from the foundation and basement walls. The new patio sits 14 inches higher than our previous one which comes right up to the bottom flapper of our dryer vent. Now our dryer vent door has a hard time opening consistently or fully. Laundry loads can take twice as long some days. This extended drying time is pretty annoying. It results in a lot of forgotten damp clothes and rewashing.

We're working on a better solution for the outside vent, but in the meantime Jim hung an indoor clothesline that is making our lives a lot simpler. If the clothes in the dryer are damp, they go right to the line and laundry progress marches on. This save us on dryer time and rewashing. Plus, it means far fewer trips up and down the Alpinist-designed stairs (more on stairs).

Now, most people would advocate an outdoor clothesline for the sunshine, but I'm allergic to most of Southern Indiana's greenery. Hanging my clothes out for the fresh air smell is a recipe for ongoing respiratory misery and seepage. The outdoor pollens on the clothes rapidly make me a weepy-eyed sneezer whenever I wear them.

We chose a retractable clothesline (so we can move it when we're working in the utility room) and used a couple of extra wallhooks to use its full 30' length.

The clothesline is great for dryer-unfriendly gear like swimsuits. As an added bonus, it lessens the amount of embarrassing laundry hanging to dry in household showers.

How do you cut power consumption in your home?